Mr. Drucker didn’t look satisfied by Vaughn’s uncle’s reply, but he didn’t keep on arguing either.
I couldn’t tell whether it came from the table or from someone outside the roachbot’s view, but someone asked, “What about the Heroes League?”
Vaughn’s uncle turned to look to the left — away from the table, “What about them?”
“They’ll try to stop us.”
He shook his head. “I see them as natural allies. They’ve fought Mayor Bouman and by extension the Cabal. I’m sure they won’t help us make the Impregnator, but once we’ve been empowered, they’ll cooperate.”
A woman’s voice said, “You’re sure about that?”
“They’re young, but they’re not idiots. They’ll see reason.”
Assistant Principal Sledge eyed him, “You’re very sure about that.”
“Are you implying something?”
“Knowing that Storm King throws lightning, I thought you might have someone on their team.”
Hardwick laughed. “I don’t know for sure who, but I have my suspicions, and when I tell you, you’ll know why I laughed.”
He paused for a second. “I think they’ve got a Hardwick, but I doubt he’d be of any use to us. My guess is that he’s Suzanne’s youngest — one of your students.”
The woman next to Mr. Sledge said, “The druggie?”
Hardwick nodded. “My sister says he’s been clean for nearly a year now, but I didn’t discount him because of the drugs. He’s got problems with authority. If you know his mother, that isn’t a surprise.”
A few people around the table laughed.
Mr. Sledge didn’t. He waited until they stopped. “I think he’s stayed clean. He’s stopped associating with the party crowd, and I’ve seen him with new friends this year. He’s always talked with Cassie Kowalski, one of our better athletes, but now they’re together with Kayla, another girl, also an athlete, and some quiet kid. Nick Klein, son of the psychologist. The boy who fought George’s son.”
He paused. “And Dayton and Jody. And he was the least injured of the three.”
He paused again, thinking. “And, now that I think about it, Kowalski hasn’t been in sports during winter or spring, which is a shame because she was playing noticeably better this year.”
The people on the screen went silent, and so did we.
Vaughn looked over at me, and then Marcus. “I’m not with them.”
“I know,” I said. “I didn’t think you were.”
Marcus moved the mouse, and clicked on the stop button.
“Just a second guys, the next bit doesn’t have anything new, just them guessing whether or not you’re in the League. You can go over it yourself if you want, but the part I’m forwarding to will make you crap your pants.”
He clicked on forward, and they started making jerky movements until he pressed play again.
“… one more issue that we need to discuss tonight.” Russell Hardwick smiled briefly at everyone, but it seemed fake to me. “We may need to make a hard decision. Some of you remember Ray Malone, the son of Freddie Malone. Freddie stayed in touch with some of your parents… after everything.”
A voice said, “I remember him.”
Another said, “The Executioner?”
“Part of the team,” Hardwick said. “I was contacted by someone who said he might get out soon, and he’s coming to this area. Do we want him?”
“Want him?” Mr. Sledge raised his head to look directly at Hardwick. “I don’t think there’s any legal way for him to avoid jail. What would we want him for?”
“Men like that don’t stay in jail. And remember he’s going to come here once he gets away. The question is whether we want to be people who help him, or a security problem he has to solve? We all know about him, and he knows about us. And we’ve all shared information about the Cabal with descendants of Red Lightning’s army (including him) over the years. I don’t think we’ve got a choice. Besides, he knows how to fight, and we’re going to need that.”
Marcus stopped it again.
“Hey,” Vaughn said, “don’t stop there. We need to know what they decide to do.”
“They’d don’t decide anything. They argued about it for the next hour, and agreed to take it up again at their next meeting.”
“So this is just going to hang over our heads? Fuck.” Vaughn stared blankly ahead for a second. Then he walked away from us to look up at the frozen picture on the wall screen.
I turned away from Vaughn to look over at Marcus. “Did you have any ideas about what to do with it?”
Marcus looked up from the screen. “Oh yeah. A pile. The obvious one is we keep on watching them, and swoop in if they decide to do anything we need to stop. And then we’ve got the sneaky option… We have someone go up and work out an alliance, and warn them against Ray and all those guys. If we were really clever about it, we might even be able to divide the group or something… And the Batman option: We go in, and I don’t know, dangle Hardwick out of a building and tell him to keep them out of all this. Trouble is, I bet they wouldn’t so… Well, my other idea is we have Daniel erase everything he can.”
“Erase? I don’t like that one.”
“I didn’t say it was a good idea.”
Vaughn turned away from the screen. “Besides, it probably wouldn’t work. My grandfather wasn’t totally immune to telepathy, but he was resistant. That’s how come the Mentalist didn’t know he was Red Lightning from the beginning. And my mom… When he tried to put in the block, it dissolved. I’d bet that Uncle Russ would be like everyone else. People say he’s a lot like my grandfather anyway.”
We’ll never know where the conversation would have gone after that because at that moment we heard the hum of the door and the roar of Cassie’s motorcycle coming in through the vehicle entrance to the hangar.
Seconds later she walked into the main room in costume, sword on her back. “You’re looking busy down here. What’s with the yellow?”